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Korsakova's smile became coy as she hopped before a wave. "Perhaps. Perhaps not, Agent Bettmann. I have a question for you."

Both hopped in unison. "Try me."

"How did you know that Bacon is my favorite poet?"

"Bacon is Svetlana's favorite poet." Now it was Korsakova who stared blankly, and Bettmann stuck his left arm out straight, above the rolling surf. "Svetlana, did anyone ever take blood from your left arm? Without your permission, around the year two thousand--"

The stare broke with fear, and then Svetlana Korsakova was swimming desperately for the safety of the shore.

Bettmann pulled his arm back, and cupped his hands to shout, "Svetlana, they did the same to me! They cloned me too! They did the same to me!"

Korsakova stopped and turned around to stare at the man who had his left arm extended once more. "You had better explain yourself, Agent Bettmann."

Bettmann lowered his arm to help balance himself over a small incoming wave, and he glanced at Veronica's approaching boyfriend. "The woman who calls herself 'Svetlana' is an exact copy of yourself, down to the fingerprints. Her partner is an exact copy of myself, and he's helped her kidnap others. I need your help."


"So tell me, Brad, how do I know you're not a copy of the original?"

Bettmann stared up at a perfect image of Natalie Arbor on the big screen kissing another digital reproduction, one of Michael Michelson playing the lead role in Bombs Over Baghdad. "Well, for starters," Bettmann whispered back in the dark and mostly deserted movie theater, "I can tell you this movie has it all wrong."

First Star by W.R. Hammons:

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